PTSD  — or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is a real diagnosis usually used for cases where people had a traumatic event happen in adulthood (like taking part in a violent battle, or having a car accident). The symptoms include flashbacks, anxiety, depression, insomnia, social withdrawal and explosive emotions, among other things. 

Another, second of PTSD is Complex PTSD (or C-PTSD) which is caused by chronic exposure to emotional or physical trauma, such as living through a war, being in an abusive relationship, or growing up in traumatic conditions, which is what this blog is about. The diagnosis is not 100% clear, so for now let’s call this kind “Childhood PTSD.” There is a LOT of research going on right now in this area. The biggest and most impactful is probably The ACE Study, which has  kind of become the standard measurement of childhood crappiness.

The ACE Study

the Ace Study began in the mid-1990s, when physician researchers Vincent Felitti of Kaiser Permanente and the Robert Anda of U.S. Centers for Disease Control interviewed hundreds of study participants about their history of adverse childhood experiences” known as theACE” Study.


Felitti and Anda created a survey that asks about each of these experiences; respondents gave themselves one point for each experience on the list they checked as a yes.  So a person’s ACE score is somewhere between zero and ten.

The ten adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs include:

  1. Physical abuse
  2. Sexual abuse
  3. Emotional abuse
  4. Physical neglect
  5. Emotional neglect
  6. Mother treated violently
  7. Household substance abuse
  8. Household mental illness
  9. Parental separation or divorce
  10. Incarcerated household member

(There are probably many other experiences that ought to be included, like the death of a parent, or being bullied in school, or being desperately poor, or a refugee — you can take this into consideration when you take the test.)

Take the ACE Survey and Learn Your ACE Score

While you were growing up, during your first 18 years of life: Yes or No
1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often … Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt? If yes enter 1 ___
2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often … Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured? If yes enter 1 ___
3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Try to or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal sex with you? If yes enter 1 ___
4. Did you often feel that … No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other? If yes enter 1 ___
5. Did you often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it? If yes enter 1 ___
6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced? If yes enter 1 ___
7. Was your mother or stepmother: Often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes or often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife? If yes enter 1 ___
8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs? If yes enter 1 ___
9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill or did a household member attempt suicide? If yes enter 1 ___
10. Did a household member go to prison? If yes enter 1 ___
Now add up your “Yes” answers: _______ This is your ACE Score.

What Your Ace Score Means

Your ACE score is not the only way to measure what happened to you, and what it measures is very general — for example, there is a big difference between having a parent who is depressed for a few months (question 9) and one who suffers from schizophrenia all her life. Plus, not everyone reacts in the same way or has the same problems, as a result of childhood events.

But as a rough measurement, the higher your ACE score, the more likely you’ll experience certain problems in your life:

  1. We are depressed and anxious more than most people
  2. We can overreact to things, and sometimes have anger problems
  3. We are more likely to be violent, and to be victims of violence
  4. We easily become overweight (especially if we were sexually abused)
  5. We are not so great at the whole “first-get-married-then-have-kids” thing
  6. We have sex younger, and are more likely to have an unintended pregnancy or abortion
  7. We get stuck in shitty relationships, or even violent ones
  8. We have more than our share of addictions, including smoking
  9. We have high rate of diabetes, autoimmune diseases, migraines, chronic pain and other health problems
  10. We sometimes have problems with focus, attention and learning
  11. We are more likely to have money problems, or live in poverty
  12. We sometimes feel like people or life is just harder for us, like we’re swimming upstream
Some Common Things I’ve Seen, But That Don’t Appear Yet in the ACE Literature:

  • Lots of debt. Debt is common even for normal people but I suspect higher with for people like us. I used to have debt.
  • Discomfort around normal people. I still have this. School functions are really stressful for me, for example. I feel like everyone is on this high plane of normalcy and one false move, and they will see what a freak I am and ostracize my kids.

ACEs are the big new thing in healthcare and social services. Professionals are excited to have a better way to understand what the hell is going on with people like us — why we seem to have a harder time than others, and get sicker, and make some of the same mistakes over and over again. A lot of agencies are changing around their services to try to do a better job of hearing us, and helping us. This would be awesome. All my life, I felt like doctors really did not understand, and it’s made me an uptight patient.

You can read specific information about the whole ACE thing at or by searching “ACE Study”.


Interested in learning more about recovery from past trauma? You may want to check out my new online course, “Healing Childhood PTSD” , is open for registration. It’s a self-paced course with 32 videos about how PTSD happens, what it does to us, and how ordinary people can begin healing and connecting again, whether or not they have access to professional help.  You can learn more and register here.